Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The Advantage of Playing Away

Strategy Page makes the interesting point that:

Since the United States took the offensive in the war on terror, nearly all the Islamic terror attacks have been in Moslem countries [The attack in Madrid being a notable exception. ]. The American move in to Iraq and Afghanistan is an ancient tactic, and is also called "forward defense," or "taking the war to the enemy." In addition to Iraq, where Sunni Arab nationalists have joined forces with Islamic radicals to try and gain control of the country, there is also lots of Islamic terrorism in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. There's some, but much less, activity in places like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.

They go on to explain why they think al Qaeda will eventually lose the global war which they've initiated.


The Mystery of Consciousness

Robert Wright interviews evolutionary icon John Maynard Smith on the mystery of consciousness and seems driven toward the conclusion that perhaps there is a God after all. Smith demurs. Their exchange can be viewed here.

Consciousness poses a challenge to materialism in that it's very difficult to conceive of an explanation for how matter could produce sentience, self-awareness, and abstract thought purely by chance and the laws of nature. The materialist believes that consciousness is just a product of the chemical and electric phenomena occuring in the brain, and it may be, though I doubt that it's that simple, but the salient question is not just what consciousness is and what generates it, but how did it ever emerge.

It is as if, the materialist would have us believe, an ocean of computer parts was somehow, through the action of blind physical forces, able to gradually construct a machine that was aware of itself and of its environment. This, if it happened, would be a feat every bit as miraculous, if not moreso, than turning water to wine or parting the Red Sea, events at which materialists are generally given to scoff.

The origin of consciousness, along with the origin of life itself, may well be the two greatest mysteries confronting human understanding today and are certainly two of the greatest difficulties with a materialist worldview.

Barely Juvenile

This article prompts us to ask what message, exactly, is walking around in one's altogether supposed to send? Does a naked body make some sort of political statement? If so, what could it possibly be? "Hey, look at me I'm a liberal!"

Does the individual who strips him or herself down to the bare essentials simply crave attention? Are they psychological cousins to "flashers" who, like monkeys in the zoo, find amusement in flaunting their most personal accoutrements in front of others? Are they deluded exhibitionists who think that their naked anatomy is a turn on for bystanders? Are they nothing more than rude, and perhaps deranged, souls who simply enjoy embarrassing others?

If exposing oneself is merely a symbol of rebellion it seems pretty childish: "Okay, George Bush, if you're going to go to war in Iraq I'm going to show the world my willy!" What deeply suppressed obsessions and neuroses do these people feel the need to liberate?

Maybe a psychiatrist could tell us why the folks who do this sort of thing think it is anything other than a sign of a deeply troubled id and/or arrested development and why communities think that it's somehow "progressive" to permit it.

Alienating Religious Moderates

Slate's Amy Sullivan laments the rapid drop-off in the polls of those who believe that the Democratic party is "friendly" toward religion:

[I]t is startling that in the two years since this Democratic revival began, the party's faith-friendly image has dimmed rather than improved. The Pew Research Center's annual poll on religion and politics, released last week, shows that while 85 percent of voters say religion is important to them, only 26 percent of Americans think the Democratic Party is "friendly" to religion. That's down from 40 percent in the summer of 2004 and 42 percent the year before that-in other words, a 16-point plunge over three years. The decline is especially troubling because it cuts across the political and religious spectra, encompassing liberals and conservatives, white and black evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.

Ms Sullivan, however, mistakenly attributes this decline to Republican mischief:

In the past year, stunts by the right have taken a toll on the Democrats. There are the repeated Justice Sunday events, in which Republican congressional leaders bravely defend America from the onslaught of liberal activist judges, and the War on Christmas hysteria, in which Bill O'Reilly defends baby Jesus from secular tyrants at Target. If you say anything enough times on Fox (see: Saddam Hussein, role in 9/11 attacks), you can get some people to believe it. It's not a surprise that all of this affects conservatives' views of the Democratic Party's faith-friendliness. Of more concern to Democrats is the effect such tactics have on moderate voters. The percentage of self-identified political moderates and independents who believe Democrats are friendly to religion each dropped by 18 points over the past two years, according to Pew. These respondents may not exactly believe the rhetoric of Justice Sunday, but it seems to have planted a seed of doubt in their minds.

As long as Democrats continue to believe that their problems with Christian voters stem from Republican propaganda they'll never recover the confidence of those religious moderates whose estrangement Ms Sullivan bemoans. The reason for the disaffection among religious voters is simple and can be discerned by pondering the following six questions:

  • Which party most strongly supports abortion on demand?
  • Which party most strongly supports gay marriage?
  • Which party most strongly supports the secularization of our culture?
  • Which party's policies are most congenial to our cultural "slide into the sewer"?
  • Which party is most strongly opposed to school choice?
  • To which party do most militant atheists and agnostics belong?

In the answers to those questions lies the root of the Democrats' problem with religious voters.

By the way, Sullivan has a funny line in her essay where she drily observes that "random-seeming insertions of Bible verses into floor speeches came off as Tourette's syndrome for Democrats." Good one.